I’m not a politician. I am not a government official. I’m not a rabbi. I have no sway on when the economy (or shuls) reopen. My one and only concern is the safety of my family, friends, and neighbors.
Initial predictions were over 100,000 deaths. I truly believe that would have been a reality if not for the social distancing that people have adopted and adhered to.
I do believe we have turned a corner here in New York. Hospital admissions are down. And the number of deaths is declining each day. Let us pray that continues.
I wish I could un-see many events from the last few weeks. I’ve watched 30-year-olds come to my ER and die within hours. I have said vidui (confession) with virtual strangers and watched them struggle with their last breath – all alone with nobody at the bedside other than me and a nurse.
I’ve witnessed friends and neighbors die, while helplessly looking on. We have buried the best of the best of our community, including my rebbe, Rabbi Leibel Katz; Rabbi Matis Blum; Dr. Eli Landau; and so many other wonderful people.
I’ve had episodes of uncontrollable sobbing – enough times that my family and office staff were worried that I was having an emotional breakdown.
I’ve also seen amazing things. Communities have come together to arrange food deliveries for people unable to get out. We’ve gotten oxygen to those sickest of patients and allowed them to stay home and survive. Hatzolah, Shomrim, Amudim, and other organizations have stepped up and met the challenge head on. I’m privileged to be part of the medical community that has persevered, despite emotional and physical hurdles.
But over the last week I’ve seen people become complacent.
People who have been so amazing are almost justifiably tired of quarantine, and are becoming lax.
This past weekend I witnessed families getting together for barbecues and kids playing outside together. “Porch minyanim” are cropping up. Scores of people in the grocery stores are not following the accepted social distancing guidelines.
This is astonishing to me. We cannot have such short memories.
We cannot forget those who have perished in this plague – or the critical steps we all took that have prevented scores of others from the very same fate.
The government will reopen our economy. It must happen for other aspects of our lives to continue. The arguments for and against are not the purpose of me writing to you today.
We can and we must continue social distancing until the infectious disease experts we all relied upon tell us the time has come to stop.
The only way we are going to safely get our lives back to some semblance of normalcy is for people to follow the rules. Social distancing can and must continue for the foreseeable future – even more so when we reopen up our shuls. The very essence of our community is our closeness and social interactions. It makes us unique and special. But according to the experts, that closeness is exactly why and how so many of our brothers and sisters got sick to begin with. We must stay vigilant and socially distance ourselves. Lives depend on it.
And what about those over 60 who so carefully isolated themselves and didn’t get sick? On the one hand, they are healthy and well. On the other hand, because they never contracted the virus, they presumably have no antibodies (if that even confers immunity, as nobody is sure at this point).
This means that hundreds of our neighbors, friends, and parents don’t have any antibodies. They are exactly in the same vulnerable position they were nine weeks ago and could contract the fatal coronavirus in a split second. The wrong interaction. The supermarket. The subway. Even the park. Any random encounter could prove fatal.
We are not out of the woods yet. And if anything, we are possibly in a more dangerous time, because unlike before when everyone was terrified, people are prematurely letting down their guard.
Don’t become a statistic or a name on a T’hilim group list.
Common sense and recent history guide us to continue our extreme vigilance.
This community has lost some if its most special people. Haven’t we all cried enough?
Please be safe. Please be careful. I’m begging you.
By Edward (Ellie) Bennett, MD